Oxidative stress is produced under diabetic conditions and possibly causes various forms of tissue damage in patients with diabetes. The aim of this study was to examine the involvement of oxidative stress in the progression of pancreatic beta-cell dysfunction in type 2 diabetes and to evaluate the potential usefulness of antioxidants in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. We used diabetic C57BL/KsJ-db/db mice, in whom antioxidant treatment (N-acetyl-L-cysteine [NAC], vitamins C plus E, or both) was started at 6 weeks of age; its effects were evaluated at 10 and 16 weeks of age. According to an intraperitoneal glucose tolerance test, the treatment with NAC retained glucose-stimulated insulin secretion and moderately decreased blood glucose levels. Vitamins C and E were not effective when used alone but slightly effective when used in combination with NAC. No effect on insulin secretion was observed when the same set of antioxidants was given to nondiabetic control mice. Histologic analyses of the pancreases revealed that the beta-cell mass was significantly larger in the diabetic mice treated with the antioxidants than in the untreated mice. As a possible cause, the antioxidant treatment suppressed apoptosis in beta-cells without changing the rate of beta-cell proliferation, supporting the hypothesis that in chronic hyperglycemia, apoptosis induced by oxidative stress causes reduction of beta-cell mass. The antioxidant treatment also preserved the amounts of insulin content and insulin mRNA, making the extent of insulin degranulation less evident. Furthermore, expression of pancreatic and duodenal homeobox factor-1 (PDX-1), a beta-cell-specific transcription factor, was more clearly visible in the nuclei of islet cells after the antioxidant treatment. In conclusion, our observations indicate that antioxidant treatment can exert beneficial effects in diabetes, with preservation of in vivo beta-cell function. This finding suggests a potential usefulness of antioxidants for treating diabetes and provides further support for the implication of oxidative stress in beta-cell dysfunction in diabetes.

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